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That one special family cemetery

By Kay S. Pedrotti In grateful appreciation to the many readers who have said they really appreciate the ‘back-when’ and ‘small-town’ columns, I now offer one that covers a bit of both. It’s about a particular cemetery, Evergreen, in Fitzgerald, Ga. Not only most of my departed paternal relatives are buried there, but also my Biggers grandparents and some other relatives on the maternal side are resting at Evergreen. I’ve written a poem about it. I’ve visited it practically every time I’ve ever been to Fitzgerald. The first paternal uncle buried there, third child James Lawson Smith, prompted my grandfather to buy an 18-place cemetery lot for him and Grannie and their children and spouses. Lawson died in 1954 of heart problems that now have treatments leading to more years than just 30. Granddaddy planted some beautiful cedars on the outer corners of the plot; later they had to be removed because there were enough graves, and the trees had grown so large, that their roots were a problem. This is the two-edged evocation of cemeteries: they are wonderful, quiet, lovely places for prayer, meditation, tears and gratitude for lives departed and for those still with us. That’s the softer edge. The sharper edge is that when you are there, or at least when I’m there, it is unavoidable not to think of everybody. Outside the cemetery we may miss and mourn them one at a time; within the gates, they must all be mourned and missed at the same time. My parents would not let Vicki and me (ages 5 and 9) attend Lawson’s funeral, but there is a photo taken when many of us ‘went back to look at the flowers’ in which my sister and I can be recognized. My grandparents, my parents, five uncles and three aunts are around the large ‘Smith’ granite marker at Evergreen, as well as two small markers in memory of the Smith children’s sibling babies who died, Mary Eunice at 11 months and Robert Griffin at two days. The markers occupy the space allotted for Lawson’s wife Margaret, who never remarried but went back to her home town of Paducah, Ky., and is now buried there. She asked my uncle Gerald to arrange for the markers. Out in the ‘middle’of the cemetery as it existed when I was growing up are the graves of W.A. and Renna Biggers, my mother’s parents; Aunt Dot Wilson and my sister’s late husband Jerry White. Many extended Smiths and Biggerses – brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews of my grandparents, also have their burial sites there. At the front of the cemetery are several hundred Civil War graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers. The town of Fitzgerald was founded in 1896 by survivors from both sides: soldiers who were businessmen, skilled workers, farmers, teachers and preachers who wanted a new start in a whole new town for themselves and their families. For several years I have not been able to go into Central Methodist in Fitzgerald for a funeral, nor to go alone to Evergreen, without a feeling that I am surrounded by that, ‘great cloud of witnesses.’ They were people who loved me and helped me grow up. They were capable, intelligent, funny and fun to be with, but above all my Christian examples. Not perfect, thank God, because then I could never hope to be like them. Just the Potter’s children who shaped me. Kay Pedrotti is a writer and reporter for the Herald Gazette.

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